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Thrilling production of great Stephen Sondheim musical boasts some excellent performances

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This razor-sharp revival of Stephen Sondheim’s great, grisly musical is a joy to behold, with a pair of sparkling central performances that are more polished than Sweeney Todd’s gleaming blades.

Imelda Staunton all but steals the show as the Demon Barber’s hilariously amoral and industrious accomplice Mrs Lovett, while Michael Ball is equally engaging as the demonic anti-hero himself, cutting a terrifying figure while also managing moments of tenderness.

Comedian Jason Manford – he who left The One Show amid revelations of saucy Twitter exchanges – is a revelation himself in his West End debut, playing rival barber Pirelli with panache.

If you don’t know it already, the story charts Todd’s quest for vengeance. Banished by a cruel judge intent on stealing his beautiful wife, he returns to London 15 years later to discover she poisoned herself after being raped by this man of the law, who now intends to marry his daughter.

His appetite for revenge quickly grows into a ravenous and bloodthirsty hunger – which results in lots of dead people getting baked into pies.

The over-the-top tale is brought to life in all its gory glory in a production that bursts with vitality (more than can be said for Todd’s unwitting victims as he slices his way through Victorian London).

Sondheim’s music and lyrics are typically excellent: chilling, funny, emotional, and constantly inventive, with effective use of a chorus.

The staging is well-executed, presenting a multi-layered scene, its centrepiece a moving platform that holds up Todd’s barber shop and his devil-red chair, sharing the stage with Mrs Lovett’s pie shop and the chorus perched up high; the busy nature of it all reflects the characters’ frenzied minds.

In one particularly memorable scene, Todd casually slits one throat after another, while incongruously singing a delicate ballad to his wife Joanna. The audience gleefully lapped up the comic blood spurts spraying from each neck – as no doubt they did the entirety of this thrilling show. Four stars.

* Sweeney Todd is at the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand, WC2, until September 22. Call 0844 811 0053 or visit www.sweeneytoddwestend.com for tickets.

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